Throughout the ages, books about medicine have served as instruction manuals for society’s healers.
In the earliest stages of history, before healing was understood very well, books about medicine were filled with folk remedies and magical treatments. Even as the state of medical knowledge advanced, many books about medicine contained fraudulent advice peddled by quacks. However, as scientific medicine has become increasingly accurate, these books have become more specialized and technical; many modern books about medicine require advanced medical knowledge to understand.
With the progress of medical knowledge, it’s become increasingly necessary for popular books to translate the jargon of medical research into common speech. Many of these books about medicine distill the knowledge of the latest medical advances into a format that regular people can understand. These same medical advances have transformed doctors into respected figures, making the medical doctor a popular figure to include in fictional books.
#1 – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Henrietta Lacks was a poor farmer who had cancer in the 1950s. When she went in for treatment, cells from her tumor were extracted and cultivated for research without her consent. These cells, now known as HeLa cells, proved to be a major boon to scientific research; their immortality has made them ideal research subjects, inspiring many scientific papers and books about medicine. This book delves into the ethical issues surrounding the use of HeLa cells and the life of the little-known cancer victim who left behind a family while fueling a scientific revolution.
#2 – Outliers: The Story of Success
This book examines the success of several notable individuals, including Bill Gates and the members of The Beatles, in an effort to identify what factors made them successful. Although many of these outliers did possess the genetics that produced exceptional skills and talent, there were many other people in the world who possessed similar skills without attaining the same level of success. Instead, the author argues, these wildly successful figures were the beneficiaries of a combination of geography and luck.
The author also explores the “10,000 hour rule”, which states that a skill should be practiced for 10,000 hours correctly to achieve greatness. The book’s study of birth vs. environment vs. hard work makes it a good read for any one interested in medicine.
#3 – Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Advances in medicine have made significant changes in the care of the elderly and the sick; people are now living longer than ever before. As the author notes, however, the quality of that extended life is sometimes lacking. Atul Gawande, like many practicing doctors who have authored books about medicine, uses his medical expertise to advocate for change, highlighting several changes that have improved end-of-life care.
#4 – Cutting for Stone
Cutting for Stone is a fictional novel about a pair of male twins born in Ethiopia. After a falling out between Marion and his twin, Marion flees to the United States to work in a poor hospital. Throughout the novel, stories of medical care and the empathy of doctors are carefully woven into the narrative.
#5 – My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey
Jill Bolte Taylor
Many books about medicine have been inspired by personal medical misfortunes. In December of 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor, a trained brain scientist, experienced a severe stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain, causing her to lose the ability to speak and walk. This book outlines her recovery and discusses the science and health of the brain.
#6 – Stiff, the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Mary Roach, a noted science writer, has written several books about medicine and the human body. In Stiff, Roach brings humor to the morbid topic of human cadavers. She examines some of the many paths human cadavers take, from being dissected in a medical institution to serving as crash-test dummies for cars.
#7 – The Checklist Manifest: How to Get Things Right
Mistakes are a common obstacle in any field, but in medicine, mistakes can be fatal. In this book about medicine and other important topics, the author argues that checklists are the surest way to prevent terrible mistakes. Throughout the book, the author uses his own background in surgery to illustrate his views.
#8 – Love in the Time of Cholera
Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza were once in love, but Fermina ultimately chooses to marry a wealthy doctor dedicated to the eradication of cholera. Throughout their life together, Fermina’s husband remains resolutely committed to modernity and progress. When Fermina’s husband passes away after decades of marriage, Florentino offers his love to Fermina once more.
#9 – Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science
Many books about medicine have been written to prepare potential doctors for the reality of this challenging and sometimes heartbreaking career. In Complications, the author includes a number of stories from his own experiences to remind readers that doctors sometimes make mistakes. Some of the stories are tragic, but the author also includes his hope for the medical field to continually improve and save more lives.
#10 – The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales
This book, written by a neurologist, details the stories of patients with fascinating psychological issues. For example, the memory function of the brain is examined with the story of a man who was unable to form new memories. As with other books about medicine, this book delves into deep concepts by using a conversational approach that anyone can enjoy.